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Boar welfare

NPF supports natural boar behavior and needs

In the wild boars are generally solitary animals. They live apart from the herd and visit only briefly during the mating season to mate with female pigs when they come into season. They will fight other boars during the mating season to win the right to mate with a grouping of sows.

Natural pig farming replicates the solitary nature of the boar. The boar is kept apart from the gilts and sows until they are ready to be mated. Natural procreation is used. Either resident or visiting boars mate with the sows. We don't choose to use artificial insemination as we believe our pigs should enjoy the full range of their natural behavior.

Where a resident boar is raised for natural mating:

  • The boar is kept in large enclosure (rice hulls or soil flooring)
  • The female pigs (gilts or sows) are put in enclosure with boar when they are in season
  • The boar and sow have space and time to carry out normal courtship and mating behavior
  • The boar and sow are mated 2-3 times at the appropriate time
  • Human interference is minimal

Natural pig farming boars are not overworked and we keep them until there is a clear decline in the number and size of the piglets they sire. We don't have a pre-set age for when to replace a boar. ?A good boar is half the herd? as the saying goes. When you have a boar that has of gentle disposition, sires good litters and who maintains good body condition, retaining it beyond the 2 years of age factory farm industry standard is both practical and sound sense.

Boars and contact with other pigs

Mature boars should not be kept together as they will fight and cause each other serious injury. There is some debate as to whether boars should be kept alone or with another younger male pig for company. Wild boars tend to live relatively solitary lives, joining the female group only during mating season. Current EU guidance from the scientific vetinary committee suggests that keeping boars in a separate pen but in visual contact with females is a good solution. Such proximity also has the benefit of arousing stronger heats / in-seasons from sows, and indeed, if the boar has many sows to mate such isolation may not be an issue.

Other sources suggest giving the boar some company within its enclosure by having a young castrated male pig in the same pen. However this pig must be removed before it reaches sexual maturity to avoid fighting.

Natural pig farming believes that boars are social animals that enjoy the interaction with, and companionship of, other pigs. Having a boar in close proximity to the sows and gilts and / or having a young boar in the same pen provide adequate social contact for it. Given the choice my preference is to have a young growing male piglet share a stall with a mature boar but there are feeding issues that can make this difficult to manage successfully.

Feeding boars

Boars in the wild feed well. However in most systems raising pork they are underfed to restrict weight so they are not too heavy for sows to comfortably support during the mating process. Natural pig farming tries to ensure that our boars are fed sufficiently to minimise hunger pangs.

  • Provides quantity of feed that meets body maintenance and growth needs
  • Provides mix of processed feed with fresh greens. This provides good gut fill whilst limiting growth of fat and weight of boar
  • Mid day fresh greens provided as a snack to keep hunger pangs at bay

However, it must be said, to keep boars in operational shape the quantity of feed fed must be more limited than their capacity to eat. Feeding lots of bulky greens is only a partial solution to boar hunger and restricting excess weight.

Factory farmings treatment of boars

Boars are used within the factory farming system either to mate ‘naturally’ or to be milked of semen for artificial insemination (A.I.). They are also used to help stimulate the sow’s oestrus and assist in its detection. They begin working life aged 6-7 months and are usually slaughtered after 2 years of service when it deemed that they have become to large for a sow to support its weight on her back when mating.

In factory farms boars are usually housed individually, normally in the equivalent of sow stalls, making turning and movement all but impossible. If used for A.I. they are usually trained to mount a dummy sow. Here they are milked for semen twice a week. ‘Natural’ mating usually takes place in the boar’s pen or in specially designed mating area.

In factory farm systems, whilst boars are generally well fed in comparison to factory farm kept sows, they are still underfed to restrict weight so they are not too heavy for sows to comfortably support during the mating process. Like sows, boars face many of the hunger problems of sows in respect to the nature of the feed fed (see sow starvation). The high-energy grain-based mixed feeds used for boars are quickly digested and result in long-term periods of hunger as these feeds are not supplemented with any bulk fiber feeds necessary to provide satiety.

Natural pig farming v factory farming